The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was published in 2008. It, like many of Gaiman’s other books, is a fantasy book that presents the supernatural as completely natural and present in the world — in this case, a boy is raised by ghosts and lives in a graveyard. The plot is enhanced by illustrations by Dave McKean. The Graveyard Book won the Newbery Medal in 2009.
The book opens with the murder of a family: a mysterious man Jack has been sent to kill an entire family, but one member escapes — the toddler boy of the family manages to leave the house and find his way to a nearby graveyard. The ghosts that inhabit it hold a council and decide that they need to save the boy (as the man Jack is still trying to find him) and so give him the freedom of the graveyard and swear to protect him. Two ghosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, agree to adopt him and Silas, a mysterious figure who is suggested to be a vampire, agrees to serve as his guardian, as he can leave the graveyard and get food and clothes for the boy. The ghosts christen him Nobody Owens, Bod for short.
Each chapter serves as a different time period and adventure in Bod’s life, from meeting a human girl who is visiting the graveyard and discovering that he has powers that she doesn’t, befriending the ghost of a witch, and taking lessons and meals from a werewolf. The denizens of the graveyard strive to protect Bod from the man Jack who is still searching for him and trying to kill him.
The Graveyard Book was a fun book, though I felt that the development of Bod’s character was a little weak. I was more interested in the “people” in the graveyard and found that Bod sometimes was a minor character in my mind. Though he aged in the book, there wasn’t a lot of growth — he acted pretty much the same through the entire plot, from age five to eighteen. I enjoyed the fantasy aspects and felt that each chapter both fit in with the action as well as stood apart. It had a nice amount of weirdness without an overwhelming amount of frightening moments and gore, which is impressive considering that the book opens with a serial killing. It seems perfect for the Newbery award, which I associate with younger readers.
A lavish middle-grade novel, Gaiman’s first since Coraline , this gothic fantasy almost lives up to its extravagant advance billing. The opening is enthralling: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” Evading the murderer who kills the rest of his family, a child roughly 18 months old climbs out of his crib, bumps his bottom down a steep stairway, walks out the open door and crosses the street into the cemetery opposite, where ghosts take him in. What mystery/horror/suspense reader could stop here, especially with Gaiman’s talent for storytelling? The author riffs on the Jungle Book , folklore, nursery rhymes and history; he tosses in werewolves and hints at vampires—and he makes these figures seem like metaphors for transitions in childhood and youth. As the boy, called Nobody or Bod, grows up, the killer still stalking him, there are slack moments and some repetition—not enough to spoil a reader’s pleasure, but noticeable all the same. When the chilling moments do come, they are as genuinely frightening as only Gaiman can make them, and redeem any shortcomings.
Publishers Weekly 2008
And it is appropriate too. Don’t let the fact that the first sentence in the book (“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife”) put you off. The murder of Bod’s family is swift, immediate, and off-screen. What remains is just a great fantasy novel that has the potential to appeal to both boy and girl readers. Kid wants a ghost story? Check. Kid wants a fantasy novel set in another world appropriate for Harry Potter fans? Check. Kid wants a “good book”. That’s my favorite request. When the eleven-year-old comes up to my desk and begs for “a good book” I can just show them the cover and the title of this puppy and feel zero guilt when their little eyes light up. A good book it is.
School Library Journal 2008
Halloween time, definitely. I think the best use of this would be a book talk with middle school aged kids, paired with Gaiman’s other book for young adults, Coraline. Those two books paired together would be good for both boys and girls — I would present the chapter about the ghost of the witch as the hook.
Bird, E. (2008, August 6). Review of the day: The graveyard book. School Library Journal. Retrieved from SLJ.com website: https://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/afuse8production/2008/08/06/review-of-the-day-the-graveyard-book-by-neil-gaiman/
Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Publishers Weekly. (2008, September 29). Children’s review: The graveyard book. Retrieved from PublishersWeekly.com website: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-053092-1